Music Monday: Music and Poetry-The Connection

I wrote this guest post for the blog Spines in a Line (great name, right?) so I decided to post it here today.

Music and Poetry-The Connection

When you think about poetry, music doesn’t always spring to mind. When you hear your favorite song, most people don’t connect it to a poem. Song lyrics, on their own, have to be categorized as a poem, don’t they?

Definition of Poem: A poem is an arrangement words that convey or express a thought, feeling, or emotion, in an imaginative style. Poems will often have rhyming and rhythmic elements, sometimes in a repeating or predictable pattern.

It is a broad definition, which is why there are so many different classifications of poems. From the classic Shakespearean sonnet, Japanese Haiku, to concrete visual poetry, poem styles number in the hundreds. What I like about poetry is that as long as you are able to paint a picture with your words, you are a poet.

Music also has many styles, but I think composers have a harder time stretching the boundaries, because the human ear is used to the 12 notes in Western music (and a few more in Eastern). Because I am more familiar with the former, I will limit myself to that.

Music has been a part of humanity longer than spoken language, although you could say that music is a language in its own right. Tribal celebrations with music (or just rhythms) were some of the earliest ways to convey emotions and information. Early church chants were religious texts set to the seven notes of the modern scales. Traveling troubadours sang about events, and composers turned from instrumental compositions to operatic masterpieces. Africans, brought to America as slaves, fused their own culture with the music of colonial Americans, giving birth to Blues, Jazz, County, and finally Rock & Roll.

I started out writing song lyrics, some which became songs- others are still waiting for the right music to come along (good at writing melodies? Let me know…). Some of my songs remained short and unfinished, and those became some of my first poems. As I wrote poetry, sometimes inspiration would lead me to think that some of my poems needed a little something more to create that imaginative style.

The first poem that I set to music was, Never the Same, which describes the loss of a friendship. I think that I was noodling (that’s the technical term for playing random notes/chords on the guitar in hopes of finding something that sounds cool) on my guitar, and what I came up with was slightly sad, but introspective. It made me think of that poem as I played, and I believe that the poem is a much better creation because of the marriage of the two.

The next poem, If (The Refugee), started the same way, but this time I decided to write music specifically for it. I also experimented with recording techniques and layering.

I am going to do more with poetry and music. They are two of the things that I enjoy, and being able to combine them gives more depth to the creation.

-Leon


Leon Stevens is a composer, artist, and author of two books (so far): Lines by Leon: Poems, Prose, and Pictures and The Knot at the End of the Rope and Other Short Stories. Visit www.linesbyleon.com

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